BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN insists it would have taken the appointment of Jose Mourinho to unite the entire Hearts fanbase behind their new boss.
However, the former Scotland manager has welcomed the challenge of winning over any supporters who are sceptical regarding his return to the dugout.
Levein yesterday faced the press for the first time since agreeing to take the helm at Tynecastle, signing a three-year contract to succeed his protege Ian Cathro.
It is his first managerial role since he was dismissed by Scotland in November 2012, while it has been 13 years since he brought the curtain down on his first stint in charge of Hearts by leaving the club to join Leicester City.
However, he has been an omnipresent figure in Gorgie as director of football since 2014, seeking to rebuild the club from top-to-bottom, shaping their recruitment and masterminding their programme of developing coaches. All the while, he has railed against suggestions he had an untoward influence in first-team affairs.
And his decision to accept the manager’s job, rather than appoint the likes of Steven Pressley, Paul Hartley or Jon Daly has raised a few eyebrows among a portion of the Jambos faithful.
He said: “I do care what the supporters think. But regarding popularity, it wouldn’t matter who was sitting here, because we are not getting top managers like [Jose] Mourinho.
“Whoever we take is not nailed on to bring guaranteed success. So whoever was here, there would be some people happy, some people unhappy.
“What I can do to affect their opinion is win games.
“I know this is a demanding club. I know that more than anybody. We were in the Championship three years ago – now we have got the club on a sound financial footing, we have been in Europe, we finished third in the league and we finished fifth last season.
“Part of me likes that challenge and that environment and my hope is to change the mind of anyone who is out there unhappy with things. I want to get into a position when they are not voicing that opinion because we are winning games.”
Any suggestion that Levein’s appointment would be a stop-gap was dismissed yesterday with the announcement of a lengthy deal, however owner Ann Budge was at pains to emphasise that it did not spell the end of the director of football structure. Levein will do both jobs, as he did at Dundee United.
That is made possible, he contends, by the rapid process made behind the scenes. Having helped to completely rebuild the club’s academy system and football department, he revealed that there is increasingly less call for his input on a daily basis – leading him to believe he could be ‘doing more’.
He continued: “I didn’t have an inkling this would happen, until I was asked. However, I have been – in the last six months to a year – making fewer big decisions in the job that I was in.
“The people that were in place have done fantastically well. So it had become more of an overseeing role. I had started to feel that I could do more.
“It is a difficult job. There has been a lot of turmoil since Robbie [Neilson] left, but the rest of the football department is as good as it has ever been. Our academy is amazing. So those are the things I’ve spent a lot of time doing, and I feel really proud of.
“The club is going in the right direction. This is a job I’ll like, even though I know it will be tough.”
Levein, who has targeted European qualification with Hearts, as he achieved twice between 2000 and 2004, also expressed sympathy for departed head coach Ian Cathro.
The ex-Scotland manager took full responsibility for his appointment – which proved ill-fated and heralded just eight wins in 30 games before he was axed at the start of August – and backed Cathro to enjoy a stellar career.
Levein continued: “People look at it and say it was down to Ian’s inexperience – to a degree maybe that is the case. But I think it is more the way that football is played in Scotland.
“Ian would be a perfect coach for Celtic, where they had the better players, because his coaching and his ideas in the game are fantastic. But at times we didn’t have the players to do it.
“What happens is that you lose a game and people get frightened and stop wanting to take the ball. Everything Ian was doing was fantastic but if your players don’t feel comfortable and confident taking the ball the there is an issue.
“I am responsible for what happened. I made the decision last time and Ann [Budge] and the board listened to me. Nobody had more than a vested interest than me, I took him from coaching kids to Dundee United and then Scotland and then I brought him here and I have a lot of respect for his coaching ability.
“I do still think he will be a great coach, I really do.”
The first major landmark of Levein’s second tenure will come on Thursday, with the closure of the transfer window. Rangers remain interested in contract rebel Jamie Walker, but are yet to come even close to Hearts’ £1 million asking price, while the Jambos are also keen to strengthen.
Levein added: “I think we are a little bit light and, as has been discussed, there is the Jamie Walker situation. I don’t know where that is going to go. Am I confident of keeping Jamie? Yes. I don’t see why not.”